9pm. CafÃ© Mishka’s on 2nd street, Davis, CA . 1995.
One week in to the fall quarter of my senior year and I’m already stressed. I want to finish the Poli-sci incomplete which hangs over my head, stealing peace of mind and calm. This requires writing a 15-page paper on feminism, abortion and single-issue voters. I’ve made some progress, but much remains to be done and since Shields Library is either social central or a morgue, I can’t get it done there. So I have come to the newest and brightest spot in the tiny constellation of “third-places” which dot Davis ‘ downtown area. Mishka’s is just quiet enough, especially on a Friday night, and it also has excellent food. I order a sandwich, the name of which escapes me over a decade later. It has pesto and roasted red peppers, a detail I will never forget, because of what happens later on that night.
I’m halfway through my dinner and it’s 8:30pm. My cell phone rings and I answer, filled with trepidation. My father’s voice barks profanely over the line, “Where the HELL are you? What kind of life do you think you have? One where you can go as you please, party, take drugs? What have I told you about this world, kunju? It is a dangerous place and if you are not careful, you will end up abducted, raped and murdered somewhere and I will have to identify your body and then I will kill myself and then your sister will be without sibling or father. All because you want to PARTY.”
“Daddy, I’m actually-“
“What? You’re actually WHAT? You’re about to lie to me, I know you better than you know yourself. Save your BS for someone else, edi.”
“I’m not lying, I’m studying. I have a huge paper due-
“Due on SATURDAY? Perhaps on Sunday? Bullshit!”
“No, Daddy, I’m trying to pace myself and-“
“You’re trying to PARTY!”
“I am NOT. Look, you’re REALLY starting to piss me off. For once I’m doing the right thing and this is the thanks I get? Why do I bother? I’m sitting here, surrounded by books and papers, desperately trying to remember my thesis statement and why I even chose it, and YOU think I’m out dry-humping someone.”
“You are lying!”
“I am not!”
“Edi mundi, I can HEAR the party. There is music behind you. How stupid you think your Daddy isÂ…no library plays music.”
“I’m not AT the library.”
“So you ADMIT your lies???”
“No, I’m at a CafÃ©-“
“OhoÂ—a cafÃ©! You are not a French intellectual! Good girls, serious girls study in the damned library, not in the CAFÃ‰.”
“I’m going to go.”
“go back to your party, you mean.”
“No, this is crap. I’m being good while a million other kids are being bad and you only assume the worst about me.”
“Either you come home RIGHT NOW or you don’t come home at all.”
“I’m in the middle of writing this, I’ll be home in an hour.”
Â“You could be pregnant in an hour!Â”
Â“Is that all you think about? IÂ’ll be done when I finish this page.Â”
“Don’t bother. The door will be locked. Now you can party all night long.”
I slam my phone down, attracting the attention of the four other people who are lame enough to be on 2nd on a Friday night, instead of the bars which dot nearby G street. They return to their respective books and assignments within seconds. I try and take a deep breath. “Finish your sandwich, if you can’t write, eatÂ”, I tell myself.
I do and I decide to try and crank out as much of my paper as I can. This cafÃ© closes in two hours but the all-night reading room is available after that. Surely everyone will calm the fuck down by morning.
Pushing my plate away, I desperately tried to focus but it was no use. My heart was racing, I could feel my pulse in my right temple, underneath the palm of my hand. I couldn’t get over the injustice of the situation. I’d never been the studious type, you were more likely to catch me sunning myself on the quad, fantastic fiction nearby than poring over assigned readings. This “new leaf” I had gingerly turned over was a huge change for me, one that I wanted to sustain.
But I couldn’t. Not right then at least.
I thought back to how proud of myself I was, just before my father called and upset my delicate equilibrium and resolve. I mentally rewound even further to how disciplined I had been, five minutes after sitting down, when I resisted the impulse to answer my phone, which had started buzzing while displaying the phone number of quite possibly the cutest Indian boy at school.
Reminiscing replaced the revving in my chest with butterflies in my tummy and I was grateful for it, as I gave in to the wonder of it all, that me, Delta Gamma, College Republican, Greek Orthodox, sole-brown-intern-at-the-Congressman’s-and-then-Governor’s office ME was suddenly desi. I had attended my first ISA meeting and to my consummate astonishment, I had emerged unscathed. I didn’t have brown friends (see: list above) even though I had had the same Sikh boyfriend for my first three years of college. Beyond his immediate circle of friends and cousins, I didn’t even know the names of any of the other South Asians on campus.
I gave in to temptation and called the butterfly provider back. He was enthusiastic but preoccupied, since he was helping his friends set up for a party. “You should come,” he insisted. “It will be fun and IÂ…wouldn’t mind seeing you. I meanÂ…if you’re free.”
Could I do it all? The urge to go to the party nearly overwhelmed me. I had lived at home for all four years of college, had been required to be home by dinner each night and had never procured a fake I.D. simply because I never even came close to needing one. Though my sorority helped me feel a little bit more like a normal college student, I hadn’t attended a single party, with the notable exception of the delta gamma spring formal, and the only reason I got away with THAT is because my date was the ultimate Malayalee dream boy, flying cross-country from Harvard Med to take me to the ball.
Even my stricter-than-a-Muslim Daddy couldn’t turn down THAT opportunity to potentially get me settled. As much fun as playing Cinderella had been, much to the horrified chagrin of my father, I couldn’t do a long distance thing, not at age 20. Enter tall, cute LOCAL brown boy with dimplesÂ…oh, the power of dimples. I snapped my notebook shut, shoved library books in my bag, gathered index cards and pens and left. A few hours of fun to take my mind off things and then I’d head to the library and pick up where I left off. Perfect.
It was 9:30 and I looked for parking in South Davis, where the rich kids lived. :p Of course I was paralleling an S-class but in my defense, it was ten years old, haters. I flipped down the sun visor, so grateful that tiny lights automatically turned on when you opened the mirror. I didn’t feel like touching up my lipstick and I was pleased that I really didn’t have to. I made my way towards unit whatever-it-was while giving silent thanks for always being the overdressed-one, since it meant I could go straight to this without worrying about the appropriateness of my clothes. The butterflies within had mutated in to pterodactyls, wreaking havoc on my insides. What was I doing? I had never been to a brown party. Who the hell would I talk to or even hang out with? This was stupid. I turned around and started to walk back to my car.
“No,” I told myself, stopping. “This is why everyone thinks you’re a stuck-up oreo of a bitch. You’re braver than this. They won’t bite. They’re just Indian kids.”
Inhaling deeply, I steeled myself for what I thought would be an innocent though stressful adventure. When they opened the door after my knock, everyone was shocked to see me but I tried not to freeze. “Dimples” rushed up to me, delight on his face replacing pterodactyls with butterflies, which are a much better fit for my stomach, really.
“HEY. I’m so glad you came. I’m almost done setting stuff upÂ…do you want to wait for me?” He read the look on my face which that question had inspired correctly. “Do youÂ…even know anyone here?” I shook my head negatively.
He introduced me to a few people on the couch and promised he’d be back soon. They were tentative at first, but inherent brown proclivities soon murdered hesitation and then they were asking me about whom I knew and where I was from and what I majored in and if I knew what graduate school I would be attending. Sigh.
“Dimples” swooped in, mercifully distracting all involved in the interrogation. “Here,” he said, handing me a wine cooler. “You’re not relaxed enough. This should help.” He left with a wink as I looked at the red bottle in front of me. Â“WaitÂ—Â“ I called after him. Â“I donÂ’t drinkÂ…IÂ…Â” He was gone and everyone was looking at me like I had a goiter. My face was probably the same color as the liquid I was looking at, which was far too cold in my right hand.
I had never had one before and to be polite, I pretended to take a sip, letting it all wash right back in to the bottle. It was fizzy awfulness, but it served its purpose; everyone relaxed and went back to their drinking, now that they were certain that I wasnÂ’t some prude who would remind them of how disobedient they were. I had drank alcohol before, at home, with my father at dinner. Wine with meals and liquers afterwards, with the occasional Drambuie or Champagne on special occasions. But I had never had anything like this. I had no desire to start now, not with the keys to my car lodged uncomfortably in my front jeans pocket. I set the alco-pop down.
I didn’t have time to write a review of bad alcohol mentally because the door opened and hordes of people descended on the apartment. The lights went out and the sound was immediately ratcheted up. “Dimples” rushed to my side. “FINALLY, I get to hang out with youÂ…I was so scared you’d leave. This isn’t exactly your scene.”
“I’m fineÂ…it’s good to do new stuff. New year, new friends.” I was stammering gibberish from the nearness of him. When he asked if I wanted to dance, I blushed and nodded. Off we went. I enjoyed about ten minutes of it before he got yanked away to settle some predictable drama. My phone rang and I walked outside to get away from noise.
“I was calling to say I was wrong for assuming the worst about you, but it turns out my suspicions were correct. You ARE at a party. Oh, why did I get cursed with such a worthless daughter? Why? That’s it. I’ve had it with you. You have no father. I am dead to you, hear me? Dead! My daughter was a good girl, not a party girl.”
“Enjoy your PARTY, edi!”
I was consumed with rage and sadness. No matter how hard I tried, it was never good enough. Moments later I was called over to the other side of the patio, where several people were engaged in some kind of drinking contest. I politely declined, since I already felt guilty for touching the wine cooler. “Dimples” showed up and asked if I wanted another.
“NoÂ…I better not. I have to drive.”
Â“Oh thatÂ’s rightÂ…you live at home, donÂ’t you?Â”
Â“Yeah. But it might be too late for me to head there tonightÂ…Â”
He laughed easily. “You’re not going to. You think I’m going to invite you to a party at my house and then let you do something dangerous? I like you. You’ll be fine. A bunch of people are crashing here afterwards.”
My eyebrows shot up and I started to object, but he cut me off.
“They’re all GIRLS. It’s okay. Chill. You look like you’ve had a rough week. You need to relax.”
I couldn’t believe what possibilities lay before me. Wherever I looked, people slammed shots and sipped beer which had been tapped from the two kegs to my right. The makeshift dancefloor (read: space between three couches) was packed and everyone else was having so much fun. “I’m a bad girl anyway, right?” I muttered to myself. “Might as well have some fun.”
Three+ years of non-stop school (I did summer sessions each year) and dozens of turned-down-invites to parties suddenly came to mind as my anger grew. My father treated me like I was some harlot and THIS was my first party ever! I was a Senior in College! I wasn’t normal! THIS was normal. I considered my future, bleak with law school and fighting off attempts at arranged marriage. When someone handed me a red solo cup full of beer and motioned for me to join the sloppy contest taking place, I smiled slightly and turned towards my opponents. Time to make up for lost college.
Thirty minutes later, I was tipsy. Very tipsy. Or so “Dimples” discovered when he found me on the patio. When he led me inside to dance, he informed me that I was VERY intoxicated. “That’s itÂ—you’re cut off. No puking for you, ‘kay?” He sat me down on a couch and returned with a large plastic tumbler (souvenir from an Aggies game) filled with cold water. Cold felt good. I wandered outside, to get some cold air to go with cold liquid. Then I heard screaming. The police had arrived and were busting anyone underage. Oh, shit. I was weeks from my 21st birthday. I edged towards the bushes which outlined their outdoor area, quietly making for the parking lot. I just needed to sit down and breathe, not get arrested.
I found a curb but it was too late, the sudden movement and fear gripping my stomach had already worked against meÂ—I was retching violently and after what I saw, I knew it would be years before I could eat roasted red peppers EVER again. A policeman sauntered up to me and asked if I was done. Terror consumed me. This was it. Oh Shit. Oh fuck. Oh no. My. Father. Will. Murder. Me. When. He. Finds. Out. I. Got. Busted. “How old are you, miss?”
Wha? Who? I groggily looked over at the source of the voice, thinking that “Dimples” didn’t sound like that. Good call on my part, because it was someone else. He was vaguely familiar, he had introduced himself at the ISA meeting and then tried to say “Hi” yesterday while I was on my way to my English class. I had exchanged two sentences with him before rushing off.
“Sure she is.”
“No, really. SheÂ’s my cousin. I was just at her birthday.”
“And I suppose she’s also got the stomach flu and THAT is why she’s puking?”
The police officer’s walkie-talkie broke the conversation and he rushed off to fry bigger fish.
“You owe me one,” the stranger said, reaching out his hand.
I got up unsteadily but then sat back down.
“You’re not doing so well. Come on, I’ll take you home.”
“No thank you. I donÂ’t live around here.Â”
Â“Then where are you going to go?Â”
Â“I’m already staying somewhere. Here. I’m staying here.”
“Uh, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but ‘here’ is not really an option right now.”
“I’m fine, really. Thanks.”
What was I going to do? In a sense, the guy was right, b/c people were getting written up right and left and everyone else was leaving. All I wanted to do was put my head down somewhere and sleep. Pesto + Coffee + Natty Light + Drama = pain. The car. I could curl up in the mammoth backseat of the car, with its tinted windows and I’d be safe. I started to get up and must have looked like I was too unsteady for that, because the next thing I knew, a different kid was by my side. He looked familiar. Then I realizedÂ…he was a family friend of one of my oldest friends, I had seen him over the years, albeit tangentially.
Good grief these Indian kids were so nice. Suddenly everyone was my friend and helper.
“I’mÂ…I’m fine. I’m just going to walk to my carÂ—I’m not going to drive, I just want to lie down somewhere that won’t get me arrested.”
He looked at me sympathetically. “Would you like me to drive you to it? I’m parked right here.” He pointed at a car less than six feet away which I immediately recognized as his MomÂ’s. I looked back at the apartment, hoping to see “Dimples” on his way to meÂ…but there was only MORE chaos. Seconds later, I saw Â“DimplesÂ” gesturing wildly in front of an officer. Grrrreat.
I got in the back seat and even though he reversed gently, my head was spinning. Â“IÂ’m sorryÂ…I donÂ’t feel well. Can you stop? Please stop.Â” Immediately he gingerly re-parked the car.
Â“Okay. No problem. My mom would KILL me if someone threw up in here. Hey, I have to go find the friend I came with anywayÂ…will you be all right if I just left you here for a second?Â”
Â“Sure. I wonÂ’t go anywhere.Â”
I put my head down on the seat and took a deep breath. It felt nice to do so. I took another. After what seemed like hours, he came back, with the friend who had intervened on my behalf with the police officer.
Â“Well, well, welllll. If it isnÂ’t my sick, long-lost cousin”, he said as he buckled his seat belt.
I sighed. Â“My car is parked out front, at the cornerÂ…Â”
Â“What are you going to do, crash in it??Â”
Â“Only until IÂ’m well enough to drive. I just want to go home.Â”
Â“ThatÂ’s stupid. OhÂ…not the going home part, the crashing in a car part. You know, youÂ’re welcome to stay at my place.Â”
Â“I donÂ’t even know you, but thanks anyway, IÂ’ll be fine.Â”
Â“ItÂ’s not safe to sleep in cars.Â”
Â“A) This is Davis. B) This is SOUTH Davis. C) IÂ’d love to see someone TRY and get in that car.Â”
Â“ItÂ’s really not a big dealÂ…IÂ’ll take the couch. You can have my room. Seriously, don’t be dumb.Â”
Â“ItÂ’s really nice of you but IÂ’d rather not.Â”
Â“Because as nice as you are, I donÂ’t even know you. IÂ’ve never just stayed at…at some guyÂ’s place.Â”
Â“Ah. What if it were some GIRLÂ’S place. Then would you feel comfortable?Â”
Â“That girl you saw me with at the party? Lives across the hall. SheÂ’ll totally let you crash.Â”
I had no idea whom he was talking about, but at that point, I just wanted to sleep. I was destroyed, physically, emotionally, roasted-red-pepperally. I told myself that I didn’t know this girl and that I’d be better off in my car. Then I remembered that story about someone choking on their vomit and dying. Ugh.
We headed towards campus, parked and walked under a starry ceiling as crickets chirped. Seconds later, we had stopped. My fake cousin knocked on the door and a girl answered. She looked sleepy in her Cal t-shirt and boxer shorts.
Â“Hey. Can she crash with you? SheÂ’s scared of boys.Â”
Â“Dude, I would be too. YouÂ’re a freak. What’s your name?”
“Anna…” Lordy, this was no time to be shy. All I could think of was, “You taste like puke, probably smell like a wreck and you are about to impose on this girl. Get over yourself, already.”
“Come on in, Anna. You can totally stay. My roommateÂ’s gone, you can take her bed.Â”
She opened the door wide and I tentatively stepped in. I turned around to thank the two strange guys who had brought me closer to sleep, a sleep I was looking forward to the way small children dream of Christmas.
Â“Save it. We all want to go to bed. YouÂ’ll be fine. Drink water, take an aspirin and get some sleep.Â” He gazed over my head, not hard to do because he was a full head taller. “Yo– thanks for letting her stay here. I owe you one.” He turned back to me. “You. Sick girl. Go to bed.”
Sounded good to me. I followed the girl to a dark room which was decorated with the posters you could purchase around the MU at the beginning of every quarter, brought to you by the roving poster people. Ah, yes. Van Gogh’s starry night. Appropriate. I gratefully sank on to a twin-sized bed. My hostess brought me a Tylenol and a blue solo cup filled with tap water. What was with all these damned solo cups? I drank, medicated, drank and then wearily swung my feet up.
“Do you need anything else?”
“No. Thank you so much for letting me stay here.”
She smiled before turning around to leave.
All I wanted was some rest. It had been far too long of a night and I wasn’t looking forward to a Saturday of getting screamed at by my Father while my Mother shook her head and my sister glared at me. Enough. That pain could wait. Right now, I would sleep.
When I woke up, there was a hand over my mouth, to prevent me from screaming.
Was this really happening? Wasn’t this guy just helping me not get arrested? Why? As tears rushed down my face, expressing what my muffled voice could not, my hands frantically clawed and pushed. I thought to myself, “Oh my God. Daddy you were right…”
April 3, 2006
Sepia Mutiny reports the stories which are in the news – not necessarily all that happened, but all that is reported.
I would urge you to go beyond this, because of something that recently happened. A young woman I know and love dearly was raped, an Indian American woman. How many support groups are there out there for women who endure such horrendous experiences? How many South Asian American women have dealt with such trauma? How many have had to bury their pain within them? Could you write a story asking this question, if only to see what sort of reader responses we get? If only to provide a little support to women who might be silently dealing with this?
It is not a good thing that South Asians are generally in the news here for all the good and amazing things they do and accomplish and earn, it is not an indication that all is bright and cheery for South Asians in the US. On the contrary, I believe that it means that much is not being spoken about, that much is hidden, that ours is a culture in which we brutally punish each other and our loved ones for the sake of painting pretty pictures for society to appreciate, and while we suffocate.As the only female in this forum, I’m choosing to write to you. Thanks.
I’ll never paint pretty pictures unless they portray the truth.
I’m not sure if you even pay attention to this site, but if you’re out there reading this, you are not alone. It was not your fault. Please, talk to someone about what you have endured. I am praying for you to not just survive, but thrive. I know that all you can think about right now is this heinous nightmare, but I promise you, it won’t always dominate your thoughts or haunt your dreams.
If you want to talk to me, I am yours. You don’t need to be suffocated by silence or shame.
I wrote that story the day I got this tip in the mail.
It’s taken me a few more days to publish it because I was scared, worried and filled with doubt. The act of recording my past triggered memories I had long ago left behind. So, wracked with anxiety, I decided that I would come up with another way to write the requested post, without leaving myself so vulnerable. Then, earlier today I realized that my fear of being judged or having this incident used against me was exactly what compelled our anonymous “tipster” to write to me on their friend’s behalf. “I can’t be quiet,” I thought.
But I am not brave. Not even close. I’ll prove it: I’m almost ashamed that a few minutes ago, my heart started to race as I thought, “It’s over now. No one’ll marry you after THIS.”
But that is what I thought. And that is the truth. And that truth is why I have to bare myself, bear terrifying risks and out myself, so that this woman who is just like me, just like my sister, can see me. So she can see that she’s not alone. That it happens to brown girls, too. That it’s not a survivor’s responsibility to feel shame, that such a heavy obligation should belong to the people who were craven and power-hungry enough to commit violence against us.
You are not alone. And neither am I.
I believe in the power of the community we are building here. I believe that I will not be harmed by telling my truth and that this example of acceptance which I have so much faith in will empower you to believe that there are people who would embrace you, wipe the tears from your face and lend you their shoulders to lean on, rather than suffocate you by using fear to silence you, like an unexpected, unwanted hand smothering you in the middle of the night.